Friday, November 25, 2005

The crumbs that remain

When we moved to this house 11 years ago, many of our neighbors were elderly people and most were the original owners of the houses they were living in. The neighborhood is a great one with solid homes built in the early 1940's. Homes with character/individuality, wood floors, yard space and huge trees. Couples with children have been moving into these houses as the old neighbors have passed on and the area has changed quite a bit.

Once again, it's a street where kids trick-or-treat at Halloween and almost everyone puts up lights at Christmas. Spring brings everyone out doing yard work and planting flowers. Summer means the annual 4th of July parade, the neighborhood burger-fest and pool parties. On autumn Saturdays, flags fly from every porch declaring loyalty to University of Texas, Texas A&M, OU, Texas Tech and TCU.

Estate sales are a fixture here, and we've already been to three on our street alone. I go in search of old chairs, shabby-chic tables or dishes I can break and use when I do a mosaic on the back fireplace or something crappy that I can re-prime and paint with a wild design. What I find are the crumbs that remain from the feast that we call "Life". It's hard to come away from an estate sale without being more cognizant of the fact that, no matter how much we accomplish in life, the end is pretty much the same for everyone. I don't mean that we all die...though that is true...but it's not my point.

I mean that the things we buy and love and use (or not) eventually just become items on a table in the house where we used to live. Everything marked with a low price. When it's our turn, our kids will go through the house and everything will be culled for its monetary or nostalgic value. They'll take the good silver and the framed/matted photograph of an Amish barn raising, but they'll leave behind the antique butter dish that I filled with handmade beads. They'll divide the stockpile of Christmas ornaments and maybe even the mason jars of beach glass from all of our summer vacations on the Texas coast, but they'll inexplicably sell the telephone table that came from my grandmother's house...complete with her old telephone.

Maybe they'll find the poem that their father wrote to me when he proposed, but maybe it will just get lost among all the other papers I've saved and get tossed. The raggedy copy of "To Kill A Mockingbird" with the inscription in the front will just be something to throw away, and they might never know that it was this very copy of the book that I held in my hands when we decided to give our first son the middle name Atticus. Their dad's collection of maps and bones (he was an archaeologist) may or may not be valued enough to keep, but they'll argue over the fossils and slides of his dig in Guatemala.

That's what went through my mind today when my husband and I went down the street this morning for another estate sale. Devoid of its normal arrangement of furniture, the house seemed to be nothing more than a random assortment of rooms, beds heaped with old quilts, kitchen cabinet doors ajar. The odd truths of our lives many times Flintsones jelly glasses were used for morning orange juice. How dirty the floor really was when the fridge got moved. The mysterious phone number--now disconnected--written in pencil inside the pantry. And the boxes of random items...unused candles, spools of thread, postcards, kitchen shears, chewed pencils they used to work countless NYTimes crossword puzzles.

Everything had a story in that house. Some were probably more poignant than others, but most of them will go untold. The forlorn metal T-square hanging on a nail in the old garage. Its owner dead and the items it helped to build long gone. Who was the last person to place it on its hook and did he/she know it wouldn't be used again? Those were the things I asked myself as we walked up the street with our arms full of books and old plates. And when we opened the front door of our own house, I thought about all of our belongings and how far each item would travel to its next home. I don't worry so much about the big stuff. I guess furniture retains its dignity no matter what. It's the homely stuff that gets me. My framed copy of George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass". The little hats that each baby wore home from the hospital. My first voter registration card with my first college address on it. Who will want these...and why should they?

Name some small things that you value. Does anyone care about them as much as you do?


Blogger Kate said...

Beautifully written and true.

I'm pretty sure no one would value my water stained pink kate spade silk purse.Or my random vinyl collection, including, but not limited to Journey,Styxx and Frank Sinatra.

I have my grandfathers old izod cardie.If a stranger came into my house, I am pretty sure they would think it to be a rag.

Perception is everything isnt it?

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Bob said...

Very nice and real. Nice tone of the lost and found, I bought a toaster at an estate sale once and I still think of the dead old guy who owned it often when I put a piece of bread in it. I did not know him, just a random estate sale. Weird. Raymond Carver wrote a brilliant short story about a yard sale. I can't remember the name of it but I'll look it up.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Mignon said...

I was going to try to post something on Thanksgiving about being the things I appreciate that don't reek of consumerism and my synapses screeched to a halt. Thank you for getting them started again...
Here's a short (pathetic) list:
a torn and stained college t-shirt stolen from my first boyfriend
my first childhood alarm clock (the radio doesn't work and it has LA Rams stickers all over it)
1 clove cigarrette in a plastic oblong case from 1990
a ceramic replica of my favorite adidas sneaker from a high school art class

5:42 PM  
Anonymous surcie said...

Good post!

Nobody would want my grandma's "grandmother ring." It's not beautiful, as jewelry goes, but it has the birthstones of all her children and grandchildren on it. When I hold it it's easy to remember what her hands felt like.

I have white vinyl Donny & Marie lunchbox from the '70s that I got D&M to autograph in the '90s. For me, it symbolizes the hopes and dreams I had as a little girl.

6:23 PM  
Blogger BeckEye said...

Great post!

I was just thinking of "stuff" because I'm in the process of moving. It occurred to me that I really don't have much. I have a bed, a CD player and a ton of CDs. Maybe some dishes and towels. Nothing else that I would want to bother moving from place to place, anyway. But, some of the important-to-me things I'm taking are my snuggly-couch blanket and my little collection of Daffy Duck figures. I also have a stuffed bunny that I've had since I was 4, but that will probably stay at my Dad's house where I left it years ago, because I'd probably end up losing it! If I ever have a kid, the bunny will come out of retirement.

7:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's two:

No one would know what the tiny ceramic jar with its psychedelically inscribed "Gemini" and potter's signature, "Josh 1969" has meant to me. I bought it new and saved it all these years as a testimony to those my life and the world.

Also, no one would have a clue about the two three-inch round balls of wood, purple and black, that sit next to the ceramic jar on my livingroom bookcase. They are cherished childhood relics of a trip I made to an art museum as a nine year old. I spent alot of time playing and "talking" to them and they heard many secrets. They silently "watched" my struggles for the next forty years.

You are an excellent writer and I want to acknowledge your skill. Though I can't say I align with all of the ideology I've seen here (I only tuned in a few weeks ago so I am generalizing, big time) I thoroughly appreciate your head.

Wendy (aka "the psycho therapist")

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Susan said...

If you don't mind me asking, in what city do you live? The description of your neighborhood sounds alot like some of the neighborhoods in Fort Worth, the city where Scott and I live. I want you to know that I was never upset on Bob's blog. It is good to say hello to another Texan. Hello.

9:05 PM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

Susan-- Your instincts are correct.

12:39 AM  
Blogger Misfit Hausfrau said...

That was beautiful.

I have my father's broken lighter from the Air Force and my Chucha Mary's vanity from the 1940's. The mirror is warped, but I love the distortion. I have my grandmother's old Social Security Card and I have my Grandfather's Certificate for completing a course on Mine Safety in the 1920's.

I also have two framed panoramic-view photos of the RAF and another military group from WW2. My husband was walking home from grad school during a rain storm in Pittsburgh six years ago and saw them sticking out of the garbage in front of someone's house. Even though we know no one from the photos, we were so sad that someone was willing to throw away family history like that. Now, we can't imagine not having them in our home.

5:43 AM  
Anonymous Spamboy said...

I have bought exactly one thing at an estate sale: it was a Walkman arm-mounted radio, yellow with faded orange buttons. Everytime I use it, I hear voices in my head for some reason...

6:23 AM  
Blogger Plain Jane said...

I love this entry.

We have many, many (far too many) things in our home. There are none that anyone will value as highly as I do - they may fetch a pretty penny but it isn't about that, is it?

The small things I value? My grandmother's wedding ring. All of my photographs, many given to me by my grandparents and mother. My grandfather's cufflinks. An autographed memoir by James Earl Jones, "Voices & Silences".

9:30 AM  
Anonymous TB said...

This is lovely.
I often sit and look around my house at the things I've chosen to display. There are wedding gifts and framed photos, and found objects that I think are beautiful that hold little value to anyone but me. I like to think that anyone who enters my home can appreciate at least the asthetic quality and intrinsic value of what is within, but these are subjective things, as you so eloquently noted here.

12:46 PM  
Blogger CISSY said...

Very poignant. My husband and I recently treked to an "antique" store. It was odd because usally I love digging through estate sales and antique shops, but this time it felt weird. I don't much believe in ghosts, but it really got weird when my husband said, "let's go, there's a weird feeling here." I guess sometimes we're more attached to our items...Among the collection were things now in our house, acquired when we had to go through his mother's things when she moved to an assisted living facility. We kept stuff with no value, except sentimental like the pot she used when she would make her wonderful chicken and dumplings. My youngest daughter asked me two days ago if she could have the pot because she remembered grandma when she used it. I liked that, and of course, gave her the pot.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow that was beautiful. It puts things in perspective. I lived in a neighborhood like yours not too long ago. If the house had not been so small we would not have left it. I hope to come back and see more writing like this soon.


5:58 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

My mother died in April. My wife and I took care of her, and mostly nothhad ing was thrown away. Not everything has the same value that it had for her, but we share alot of the same values. So all her paintings are on the walls. Her grandmother's table is still intact. Old dishes and pots are still in our posession.

The same goes for my father. He, his father and grandfather were wholesale florists, flower farms back then. Well, we have the old rubber hoses, a metal watering can, old tools and memories.

Some things are left behind, but if there is a sense of family and your roots, love, memories, traditions, and beliefs and attitudes continue.

7:45 AM  
Blogger mrtl said...

This is absolutely beautiful.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Harridan said...

Not to copy everyone else, but that really is a great post. I have a number of things I know no one would keep if I were gone: my grandmother's china, which no one aside from me wanted after she died; my stuffed hippo, who comforted me through many a scary night as a child and now resides in a drawer in the spare room; my verdigris hobnail floor lamp, one of my first "responsible adult" purchases from a thrift store, sitting in my basement because my husband doesn't like it but I can't bear to part with it. I have many boxes of bit and pieces that I can't get rid of, but I am trying to control my packrat nature.

In visiting my parents' house, I have begun taking stock of their things now that they are older - there seems to be so much detritus floating around their house nowadays. Thanks for making me realize that it probably has unknown value to them.

1:20 PM  
Blogger Arabella said...

My husband's business card, which he gave me when we first met.

Nice post.

2:46 PM  
Blogger The June Cleaver Diaries said...

A piece of paper with some guy's phone number and a goofy drawing on it--- that som eguy is now my husband.

A tattered copy of a Wood Allen book from my friend Leslie's apartment n NYC. I rescued it from amoung the boxes, baubles and "useless" items that only had meaning to her, and were left behind, after she died too young.

2:55 PM  
Anonymous icantsleep said...

Well, I treasure my Carter/Mondale buttons (and my hubby fondles them), my tattered Women Against Reagan t-shirt, and a photo of my mother on her first day of school in 1937. Like you, I have the hats each baby wore home from the hospital - and the hat my MOTHER wore when she was born, for heaven's sake. She gave it to me when I had my first baby, which made me cry like a baby. And for two years we've kept the NICU photo from the day we found out baby two would live to see many more days, a moment we thought for a while would never come.

You know what I really worry about, though? My cello. Paul's violin and viola. My piano. I can't bear to think of some idiot pasting sticky price tags on the pegs and letting strangers paw our bows. Time for instrument godparents in the will.

Lovely, thoughtful post. The Raymond Carver yard sale story bob talks about in his comment was "Why Don't You Dance?"

7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really, really beautiful.

I still have a battered teddy bear that went everywhere with me when I was young. He sits on my dresser and occasionally I wonder what will happen to him someday.

It's not mine, but my brother has one of Grandpa's old ice cream scoops, that always makes me smile.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Nance said...

I'm here fulfilling my Blog Birthday Promise to read Archival stuff from other people's blogs. I love that your son's middle name is Atticus from TKAM. As a fellow English teacher, I so get that. Unfortunately, my husband has never been on board with my literary leanings, and I end up having to satisfy my hero-worship by naming various pets after my bookish crushes. Or else my second son's middle name would have been Coleridge or Shakespeare. Sigh.

7:34 AM  

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